2021 Conference Overview

2021 Conference Overview

School leaders and service vendors were excited to reconnect in person at the 2021 Joint Annual Conference, November 19-21 in Chicago. The theme for the three-day event was “Educate. Inspire. Lead.” Attendees found inspiration through messages delivered by keynote speakers and in conversations with their peers.

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  • Attendees at the 2021 Joint Annual Conference found delight and inspiration in the storytelling of teacher and comedian Joe Dombrowski. Known as Mr. D, the tales from the grade-school classrooms, videos showing creative approach to educating, and kinetic delivery headlined the opening session. First General Session report.

  • Anthony Jack, an author, sociologist, and assistant professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, wove his own experiences and years of study about higher education opportunities and diversity into answering the question, “How can one be both privileged and poor?” Second General Session report.

  • With the clock ticking down on the 2021 Joint Annual Conference, Gail Tolstoi-Miller delivered a frank and open conversation on unconscious bias and the impacts to education. Her thoughts are backed by various scientific studies and statistics, and she makes clear that everyone, even herself, has some unconscious bias. Third General Session report.

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The Conference offered a myriad of opportunities for school board members to learn, with over 120 Panel Sessions presented on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Twenty-seven IASB member districts presented Share the Success Panels this year. Several sessions looked at lessons learned and opportunities gained from the pandemic.
  • Sessions with the highest attendance were: Illinois Teacher Shortage Status and Strategies; Top Ten Legal Mistakes School Boards Make; Current Trends in Collective Bargaining, Contract Management; Social-Emotional Learning: More Important Than Ever?; What’s Race Got to Do With It?; Every Voice Matters: Engaging Those We Serve; Identifying and Intercepting School Violence; and You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Legal Review. The Carousel of Panels, a series of 30-minute roundtable discussions, offered 20 additional topics.
Leadership training was offered in the form of Panel Sessions and eight sold-out IASB Pre-Conference Workshops for school board members.


Other training opportunities included an all-day seminar for school attorneys, workshops for business officials on school finance and sustainability for PK-12 schools, and a superintendent session for women in leadership. There were two days of specialized training for district employees who serve as board secretary or administrative assistant. Topics included social and emotional support; technology tools; FOIA, OMA, and Local Records Acts; planning for retirement; and keeping up with board policies and administrative procedures.

An Exhibit Hall of school products and services is another major attraction of the Conference. There were 181 exhibiting companies.

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It was the 88th meeting of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators, and Illinois Association of School Business Officials. Representatives from more than 688 public school districts and entities in Illinois attended. 

Typically, a quarter of Conference attendees are first-time attendees. That percentage was estimated to be higher this year because of the cancelation of the 2020 Joint Annual Conference due to the pandemic, coupled with the 2021 election welcoming new school board members to local boards of education.

The Conference gathering is also when IASB holds the Annual Delegate Assembly. A new electronic voting system was introduced to tally votes. This year, delegate representatives from 411 member school boards came to consider a total of 23 resolutions and positions proposed by member boards. Delegates welcomed student representatives from Illinois FFA to highlight the importance of the Parliamentary Procedure rules governing the meeting. 

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IASB delegates elected Simon Kampwerth Jr. (Peru ESD 124) to a one-year term as president of the Association, and Mark Harms (Flanagan-Cornell USD 74) was elected IASB vice president. Read results from the 2021 IASB Delegate Assembly.

The 89th Joint Annual Conference will be held November 18-20, 2022, in Chicago.

*NOTE: Participation numbers based on preliminary data as of November 22, 2021.